The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has left the Punjab in a mess. If Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz can clear that mess, it will have secured the key to the next electoral win
he country’s largest province, the Punjab, bore the brunt of the Imran Khan experiment in governance. The provincial government led by his handpicked chief minister, Sardar Usman Buzdar, failed even to take off properly but was kept going by the prime minister who swore by its integrity and effectiveness. Last week, it ended unceremoniously.
The Punjab is home to 60 per cent of the country’s population. A majority of its people are associated with agriculture, the mainstay of the national economy. Under the PTI regime, the Punjab suffered visible deterioration in almost every sphere of life. The incidence of poverty increased, unemployment rose to unprecedented levels and street crime registered trends associated with Karachi during its worst days in terms of law and order. Governance declined to the point of being nearly non-existent and government machinery was considered corrupt to the hilt. Both agriculture and industry registered a decline in productivity.
A close friend of the former first lady was accused of minting millions by influencing appointments to top bureaucracy in the province. The accusations remain uninvestigated but her departure abroad after the no-confidence motion had been tabled has not helped the PTI’s case.
One of the biggest challenges the new coalition government, headed by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, faces is stopping the economic decline and arresting the galloping inflation, says Faizan Bangash, a senior political analyst. “If Shahbaz Sharif succeeds in putting the economy back on track, reducing inflation and providing some relief to the masses, he will hit the jackpot in the upcoming elections.”
“The government machinery in the Punjab has been on a standstill for four years. Almost every bureaucrat is afraid of performing basic duties of his office for fear of unreasonable grilling in the name of accountability,” says a senior bureaucrat, requesting anonymity. He says the entire bureaucracy in the Punjab has been subject to a chaotic situation for nearly four years under the Buzdar administration. Frequent transfers of top bureaucrats in district management, police and civil secretariat have caused confusion and undermined effectiveness.
The Punjab was also at the heart of the political tug of war between the PTI and the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) after a no-confidence resolution was moved against then prime minister Imran Khan. In terms of governance, the province faced an alarmingly uncertain situation. Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, the Punjab Assembly speaker and a zealous aspirant for chief ministership, spoiled his chances by committing what some have called a political blunder at the twilight of his political career.
Facing a revolt in the Punjab, Khan was desperate to retain the support of PML-Q’s five MNAs.
Former president Asif Ali Zardari had, on behalf of the PDM, given Elahi the assurance that he would be the joint opposition’s candidate for the chief minister slot once a no confidence motion against the incumbent succeeded. However, when the then prime minister Imran Khan promised him PTI’s candidature for the office in lieu of his party’s support against the no-confidence move in the National Assembly, Elahi changed his mind.
Khan then went ahead and asked the incumbent chief minister, Usman Buzdar, to resign and make way for Elahi. Facing a revolt led by Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan in the Punjab, Khan was desperate to retain the support of PML-Q’s five MNAs.
Media reports suggested that Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, was in favour of accepting Zardari’s offer for the reason that the former president was the first to seek PML-Q’s support in lieu of the chief ministership. “As for Imran Khan, Shujaat Hussain was of the view that PTI chairman should not be trusted since he had a record of ditching political allies and taking U-turns after making promises” says Gauhar Butt, a seasoned political reporter and analyst. “For four years, Imran had literally handed over the entire province to a bunch of novice adventurers in search of easy fortunes and goldmines,” Gauhar quotes Shujaat Hussain as saying.
However, Parvez Elahi’s son, Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, prevailed upon his father, and announced his party’s support for Prime Minister Imran Khan, refusing the advice of Chaudhry Shujaat Husain and other family members. “This move also caused a split in the Chaudhry family as Shujaat Husain ordered his sons Saalik Hussain and Shafey Hussain to vote in favour of the no-confidence motion. They were also joined by former federal minister Tariq Bashir Cheema, who was disgruntled with Imran Khan’s governance” adds Gauhar.
“Parvez Elahi committed political suicide by refusing PML-N’s offer of becoming chief minister. He missed a golden opportunity to bridge the two decade-old political gulf between the Chaudhrys and the Sharifs that had been created when the former ditched the latter to form the king’s party in support of Gen Musharraf,” says Bangash.
Much before it became clear that the no-confidence move will sail smoothly, it was evident that Elahi had been isolated and was quite at sea. “Elahi went against the age-old maxim: there are no permanent foes and friends in politics,” says Hasan Murtaza, the Pakistan Peoples Party’s parliamentary leader in the Punjab Assembly. He wonders why Elahi chose to reject the Sharifs’ support when it was easy to win them over. Hasan claims that some MPAs have been offered millions of rupees for their vote.
Meanwhile, the Lahore High Court has rejected the PTI’s petition for early elections to the provincial assembly and has ordered that the election for the province’s new chief minister be held forthwith.
Makhdoom Ahmad Mehmood is considered likely to be appointed the Punjab governor with the PPP support. The party also expects to have five ministers in the next provincial government.
The writer is a senior political reporter at The News International